Advocates Celebrate Criminal Justice Legislative Victories

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and members of the Assembly Majority stood with children’s and criminal justice advocates in recognition of the adoption of Raise the Age and improvements to the quality of public defense services accomplished in this year’s budget.

The SFY 17-18 budget includes provisions to enact the Assembly Majority’s longstanding goal to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility in the State of New York. For more than a decade, the Assembly has advanced legislation to remove 16 and 17 year olds from the adult criminal justice system in light of research illustrating the social and psychological detriments of treating adolescents as adults.

Also included in the budget is a six year plan to increase the state’s investment in public defense legal services to ensure that all New Yorkers have equal access to quality representation. The state will gradually increase its investment in improving the quality of public defense services according to a plan developed by the Office of Indigent Legal Services. The plan will ensure defendants have counsel at arraignment, establish new caseload standards so that attorneys can devote sufficient time and attention to each case, and ensure that attorneys receive effective training and have the necessary qualifications and experience. When fully implemented in 2023, the state’s investment will increase funding to counties and New York City through the Office of Indigent Legal Services by approximately $250 million annually.

“I am grateful to the Raise the Age NY Campaign, the Justice Equality Campaign, Children’s Defense Fund NY, Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, Legal Aid, NYS Defenders Association and countless other advocates, organizations and New Yorkers who continue to support the Assembly Majority and worked hard to raise the age of criminal responsibility and improve public defense services in the State of New York,” said Speaker Heastie. “Ensuring everyone has access to adequate legal representation, regardless of their economic standing, is our moral responsibility. Protecting our children from a criminal justice system designed for adults is our moral obligation. I’m thankful to Assemblymembers Joe Lentol and Pat Fahy for their long standing commitment to these issues.”

“The Assembly Majority has worked to right the fundamental wrongs in a criminal justice system that ignores the vulnerability of our young people. We must accept the science and acknowledge that every child that commits a crime is not a criminal. This long-awaited reform will move these cases to family court where they belong and allow young people to receive the age-appropriate treatment they deserve,” said Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, Chair of the Codes Committee. “The sealing of records provided for in this measure is the single-greatest chance we can give young offenders to recover from their mistakes and move on with their lives as independent, law-abiding citizens.”

Assemblymember Pat Fahy said, “For more than half a century, NYS counties bore the cost of indigent legal services resulting in a patchwork system of justice where the poor are often represented by overburdened public defense attorneys in criminal proceedings. After years of work and negotiations, New York has righted this wrong, will adopt caseload standards and will begin to relieve this unfunded mandate. As the prime sponsor of this ILS reform or Justice Equality Act, I am grateful for the tremendous leadership of Speaker Heastie, Assemblyman Lentol and Senator DeFransisco for their untiring commitment in getting this reform passed into law.”

“For far too long NY has been behind the curve on how we treat our children who end up in the criminal justice system,” said Assemblymember Nick Perry, Chair of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus. “These reforms will put us on the right side of progress and ensure that future generations will not be crippled by the ineffective and outdated practices. Raising the age of criminal responsibility gives children who make mistakes a fighting chance as adults. Criminal Justice reform has long been a top priority for the Caucus. We are proud to move toward a system that provides adequate legal services to everyone who needs them regardless of what they make or where they live.”

“New Yorkers have waited long enough for a justice system that treats our youth in an age appropriate manner” said Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry. “We have taken the first steps to ensure that our youth have the opportunity to turn their lives around and become productive members of our communities.”

“This year’s budget negotiations undoubtedly helped us secure a fairer and more equitable justice system for all New Yorkers,” said Assemblymember Helene Weinstein, chair of the Judiciary Committee. “Raising the age of criminal responsibility is thoughtful public policy that brings our justice system into the 21st century and better promotes rehabilitation for our youth.”

“Raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility is the right thing to do and is our responsibility to ensure adolescents do not stifle their future by being swept into the same category as violent criminals,” said Assemblyman Phillip Ramos. “It serves the best interests of all communities to reform those individuals who, with support and age-appropriate treatment, have the potential to achieve law-abiding and successful futures.”

Advocates throughout the state have expressed gratitude to the Assembly Majority for leading the charge to secure these legislative victories and are committed to working together towards continued progress.

“Thanks to the passion and tenacity of Speaker Carl Heastie, Assembly members Lentol, Blake and too many other Assembly Members to name, New York State has raised the age of criminal responsibility. This new law will ensure that the vast majority of 16 and 17 year old’s have their cases processed by the juvenile justice and Family Court systems and it will remove youth from Rikers Island no later than October 2018. Raising the age of criminal responsibility will make New York’s children, families, and communities stronger and safer and it will ensure that our state’s justice system is both more humane and in line with 48 other states,” said Jennifer March, Executive Director, Citizens’ Committee for Children.

“We are grateful to the members of the New York State Assembly for their leadership that has finally raised the age of criminal responsibility in New York. The passage of this critical legislation will prevent thousands of young people from entering the harsh and ineffective adult justice system for youthful mistakes, putting them on a path to a more successful future. We thank Speaker Heastie and all members of the New York State Assembly and their staff for fighting tirelessly for the youth of New York. We look forward to continuing to work with them to ensure that all youth who enter the justice system receive the treatment they need to change their life trajectories,” said Naomi Post, Executive Director, Children’s Defense Fund –New York.

“Justice Equality is an important part of an effective strategy to counteract the impacts of racially-biased policies,” said Anne Rabe of the Justice Equality Campaign. “By passing this legislation, Speaker Carl Heastie and the Assembly will make a difference in heavily-policed communities by increasing the fairness of the system with a foundation of justice equality for all. Thank you to Speaker Heastie and Chairman Lentol for upholding New York’s progressive traditions.”

“Families across the state are breathing a huge sigh of relief knowing that our children will now be treated like the minors that they are in the justice system. We know that they deserve the chance to develop and achieve their full potential. Now they will be given that chance. We are grateful to the courageous families and youth who have shared their stories in order to shape change and make the system better for future families and young people. Families will be forever grateful to our champions, Assembly Speaker Heastie and the rest of the NYS Assembly for their leadership in achieving this historic legislation, ” said Paige Pierce, CEO, FamiliesTogether in NYS

“Speaker Heastie’s leadership was instrumental in creating an opportunity for young people to get treatment as an alternative to incarceration. Raising the age will increase access to age appropriate intervention and recovery supports for young people struggling with addiction”, said John Coppola, Executive Director, New York Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers (ASAP).

“After decades of debate, New York State officially raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years of age earlier this month. NASW-NYC has been a longtime supporter of raising the age, as a campaign based rooted in core human rights principles, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the NASW-NYC Code of Ethics. Now that Governor Cuomo has signed this into law, we would like to thank the Assembly for their leadership on this issue, their dedication to our youth and their steadfast commitment to ongoing advocacy for our young community. NASW-NYC is honored to stand in support of this monumental step forward and stands ready to continue the challenges still remaining to assure our youth receive the supports they need rather than getting caught up in the criminal justice system.” Juli Kemper, Esq., LMSW, Executive Director, NASW-NYC

“We commend Speaker Carl E. Heastie and Codes Committee Chair Joseph Lentol for their leadership role in for working through the thorns to find the roses of quality and defender independence, forging an agreement that improves the quality of the public defense system while reducing the burden on local taxpayers. This transformational reform provides a foundation of justice equality in our public defense system and conforms to national standards by maintaining independent oversight by the Office of Indigent Legal Services,” said New York State Defenders Association Executive Director Jonathan E. Gradess.

“Low-income New Yorkers across the state will be much more likely to receive quality representation throughout the legal process – from their first court appearance to their last – once these important reforms are fully implemented,” said Justine Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge at The Legal Aid Society. “I commend Speaker Carl Heastie for his expert leadership role in bringing this priority to a positive and welcomed resolution.”

“My clients, as well as those clients of every other institutional defense provider in our great state, deserve excellent representation,” said Mark Williams, President of the Chief Defenders Association of NY and the Cattaraugus County Chief Public Defender. “This is a major step by the state to ensure that goal. For this, we are grateful especially to Speaker Carl Heastie. This reform starts the process of eliminating the patchwork system created over 50 years ago with its unfair burden on local taxpayers.”

“With this legislation, New York is making clear that everyone has the right to justiceunder the law, not only those who can afford an attorney,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “We commend Speaker Heastie and other state leaders for passing this important reform, which goes a long way toward making sure poor defendants don’t have to navigate the justice system alone.”

“The Justice Equality Act is a major step in ensuring that the state take on the responsibility of meeting its constitutional mandate to provide adequate legal representation to every indigent criminal defendant,” said John S. Wallenstein, President of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “I commend Speaker Carl Heastie for his leadership role in taking this step to improve the quality and delivery of public defense services and work towards meeting our obligation to fulfill ‘Gideon’s Promise’ with full state funding and independent oversight.”

“We sincerely appreciate the leadership of Assemblyman Heastie and all the members of the state legislature who championed raise the age (RTA) legislation. Westchester Children’s Association thanks all our partners who worked long and hard in support of giving thousands of New York youth a second chance. At Westchester Children’s Association, we look forward to working with our local stakeholders to effectively implement RTA and our State partners to make the legislation even stronger,” said Cora Greenberg, Westchester Children’s Association.

“We applaud New York State’s leaders for stepping up for kids by Raising The Age of criminal responsibility. Children who make mistakes while their brains are still developing need society’s urgent attention and investment. Putting them out of sight behind bars was ineffective and immoral. We will be safer, more just society when Raise The Age is finally implemented,” Jess Dannhauser, President and CEO, Graham Windham.

“Over the past decade, research on adolescent brain development and on recidivism have confirmed the moral truth that kids should be treated like kids,” said Laurie Parise, Executive Director of Youth Represent. “Youth Represent commends Speaker Heastie and the NYS Assembly for leading the way towards protecting 16 and 17 year olds from some of the most devastating effects of adult prosecution and incarceration. Thanks to this legislation, more kids will be treated like kids, and fewer will face eviction, deportation, and the lifetime stigma of a criminal record. And for the first time, thousands of New Yorkers will have the opportunity to seal criminal records and move on with their lives. We are proud to be part of the movement for comprehensive juvenile justice reform, and we congratulate the young people and their families who have been at the forefront of the Raise the Age campaign. We also look forward to continuing to work with the governor and the legislature to expand life-changing protections to more young New Yorkers.”

“CCA is proud of having participated as a lead member of the Raise the Age NY campaign that has, for many years, championed the rights of children. We thank the Speaker and all public officials who stood firm and passed this legislation. We must continue the struggle to ensure that this new law is implemented in the spirit in which it is intended, and that, in future years, more young people, up to the age of 24, are moved to the juvenile justice system,” said David Condliffe, Esq., Executive Director, Center for Community Alternatives, Inc.

“In the Jewish tradition, we learn that our greatest responsibility is to our children; we are commanded to teach them, nurture them, guide, and protect them. When we gathered at Central Synagogue with 1,000 New Yorkers of faith and conscience, with clergy of all religions, with formerly incarcerated individuals, teenagers who dream of a just New York for all people, and with Governor Cuomo, we forged a covenant with one another, asserting that all of New York’s children belong to all of us and that we will raise our voices to ensure a future of second chances and opportunities for every 16 and 17 year old in our state. We will treat children like children, and in doing so, we will live our highest values, make a safer New York, and join together with our elected officials to enact justice in our state. We applaud Governor Cuomo, our Assembly Members, and our Senators who partnered with activists, youth and their families, and New York’s faith community to raise the age this year. We look forward to working together in the future to continue to address injustices in our criminal justice system and to protect New York’s children,” said Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, Central Synagogue.

Seeth Vivek, M.D., President of the New York State Psychiatric Association, said, “This year the New York State Psychiatric Association (NYSPA) made the protection of youth central to its legislative agenda. Our support was grounded in the expansion of scientific knowledge about the development of the adolescent brain. NYSPA celebrates the enactment of legislation which raises the age of criminal responsibility along with a comprehensive set of juvenile justice reforms and which insures that youth who come into contact with the justice system have access to a broad array of evidence-based and developmentally appropriate services. NYSPA is proud to have supported this important and historic public policy initiative and stand with those who championed it.”

“The Reform Jewish Movement is an active participant in effecting societal change, carrying out the biblical commands of “justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20) and “speak up, judge righteously and champion the poor and the needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9). Reform Jewish Voice of New York State (RJV) is Judaism’s progressive voice for social justice in New York. Consistent with the Reform Movement’s national focus on criminal justice reform, RJV enthusiastically participated in the successful campaign to Raise the Age in New York State. RJV will continue to work for a just society, one in which everyone is judged by the same merit, where prejudices based on race, gender, nationality, or any other criteria have no place. Criminal Justice reform is the just, moral and right thing to do,” said Richard Laskey and Marc Landis, co-chairs of RJV.

“When looking at who is poor and who is being funneled into the criminal justice system, we see a direct connection,” said Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO and Executive Director at FPWA. “The criminalization of poverty links directly with theover representation of black and brown people who are or have been incarcerated,and this stems from years of systemic oppression in the form of discriminatory laws,policies and practices that target low-income children, youth, and communities of color. Passing Raise the Age legislation is a critical step towards criminal justicereform, and will help to ensure our youth who make mistakes won’t live a life in-and-out of prison. However, there’s much more to be done, and we at FPWA look forward to working with our community allies and elected officials to put forth practical solutions on the path towards equity.”